REALTORS® Take Action: Charrettes Are Important for Proper Planning

The timing of a $5,000 grant from the National Association of REALTORS® couldn’t have been any better for the city of Riverton.

The year was 2008. Local REALTOR® Steven Beazley recalls that the city was considering some zoning changes in Riverton, Wyo. The changes had been published and were slated for discussion at City Hall.

Beazley, who was active in the Fremont County Board of REALTORS® at the time, remembers thinking that the proposal, although voluminous, was lacking. “I remember thinking that it hadn’t had much forethought or insight,” he said.

With the city council poised to consider the proposed changes, the Fremont County Board of REALTORS® made a presentation on smart growth to city officials and local planners that included an irresistible offer: The Fremont REALTORS® put up a $5,000 Smart Growth Action Grant it had received from the National Association of REALTORS® to help fund a forum for discussion. The goal was for the city to get input from the people who lived there and, ultimately, to develop a growth management plan.

The forum, called a charrette, is used by the architectural community to bring together design experts, planning professionals and the community at large to design projects.

The city of Riverton lies in Fremont County, east of the Wind River Mountains and Jackson Hole. There are 22,500 acres in the county, but the city is just 6,250 acres. The current county population is roughly 36,000. It is expected to grow by 2,200 in five years.

Bill Urbigkit, director of public services for the city of Riverton, knows that the master plan that was ultimately unanimously adopted in 2009 wouldn’t have had as much community input or support had the Fremont County Board of REALTORS® not sponsored the charrette.

While zoning and planning discussions in Riverton, as in other areas, do draw somewhat of a crowd, he said, those who attend the meetings usually are reacting to an issue or lodging a complaint. The charrette, by contrast, draws a larger crowd of people — and not just the usual suspects — who are being proactive.

“What it did for us is that it brought in a real wide variety of people who are not the type to normally show up to a city council or planning meeting,” Urbigkit said. “It gave us real good representation from senior citizens, retired lawyers and dentists, and people who have contributed a lot to the community over the years who were able to give us feedback. It’s very rewarding from that standpoint.”

The money was used to help sponsor the two-day event as well as to feed the citizens who showed up. There was a dynamic flow of people in and out of City Hall throughout the event. According to Urbigkit, “We discovered that if you want people to show up, it really helps if you feed them.”

After discussing the growth management plan for 10 months, the city unanimously approved the plan in 2009. Beazley, who now serves as president of the Wyoming Association of REALTORS®, points out that the plan that was ultimately adopted by the city is a more coordinated approach than the proposed changes to the codes that were in the first proposal unveiled by the city. The reason? Beazley credits the charrette with bringing people with fresh ideas to the table.

Urbigkit said a mixed use development, the Wicklow Senior Citizens Apartments, wouldn’t have been possible had the city not adopted the growth management plan. The development will have 48 apartments tailor-made for senior citizens and next to the development are two lots where professional office buildings will be erected, most likely for doctors’ offices. The development is near a high school and the Riverton Hospital. Without the growth management plan, Urbigkit said, the senior apartments wouldn’t have been authorized and the land would have been zoned commercial only.

“That exercise gave the planning commission and the city council and everyone else a vision,” he said. “It gave them a target to direct their attention.”

Beazley said the Wyoming Association of REALTORS® plans on applying to the National Association of REALTORS® for funds that will enable it to sponsor charrettes in other Wyoming cities, such as Evanston.

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A free, semi-annual magazine published by NAR, On Common Ground presents a wide range of views on smart growth issues, with the goal of encouraging dialog among REALTORS®, elected officials, and other interested citizens.

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